Other Places: Sounds Like A Fair Trade

There are indications that the economy is slowly improving. There are few signs that it is improving for musicians. Times are also hard for dining and drinking establishments, so some of them try to better a lose-lose situation by persuading musicians to perform for nothing. The usual enticement is the argument that it’s an opportunity for self-promotion. The following fishing expedition and reply are lifted, with permission, from Bill Crow’s “Band Room” column in the April issue of Allegro, the magazine of New York AFM Local 802.

Here’s a Craigslist ad that was sent to me by several people including Ian Royle, Jim Emerson and Scott Robinson:

We are a small & casual restaurant in downtown Vancouver and we are looking for solo musicians to play in our restaurant to promote their work and sell their CD. This is not a daily job, but only for special events which will eventually turn into a nightly event if we get positive response. More Jazz, Rock & smooth type music, around the world and mixed cultural music. Are you interested to promote your work? Please reply back ASAP.

Here is Howie Smith’s reply:

Happy new year! I am a musician with a big house looking for a restaurateur to promote their restaurant and come to my house to make dinner for my friends and me. This is not a daily job, but only for special events which will eventually turn into a nightly event if we get positive response. More fine dining & exotic meals and mixed Ethnic Fusion cuisine. Are you interested to promote your restaurant? Please reply back ASAP.

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  1. says

    Your blog got me to thinking. Is jazz still a form of commercial music? How many dining and drinking establishments would want to hire a jazz combo? (What would five players at union scale cost per night?) People who read this blog, of course, would love to patronize such establishments, but do we represent a viable customer base? How many economically viable “jazz clubs” are there in the USA? Has jazz become something like classical music, an art form that can only continue to thrive with funding systems that exist outside the marketplace? Why are the only fulltime big bands still in existence those in Europe owned and operated by state radio stations? I have no answers.

  2. ariel says

    Howie Smith’s reply is the best,!!!! perhaps Mr. Osborne who seems not ever to have an answer to any of his same old same old funding questions might take note .

  3. says

    A student just sent me an article by David Beem that addresses some of the topics raised here. The article’s description of free-lance classical players is identical to what jazz musicians face. He provides a broad overview of many of the problems. It’s worth a read:


    I hope that answers for at least some of my questions will appear here. But what does it say if no one has any?

    I guess I have one general answer and that is arts education. When kids play in a good school big band, they often love jazz for the rest of their lives. That creates a market.

  4. Ken Dryden says

    I’ve lost track how often I’ve read something similar on jazz websites:

    We are a new jazz website and we are looking for free lance writers to write reviews of CDs and concerts or conduct interviews. We aren’t able to pay for your contributions, but you’ll get great exposure that could lead to paying work elsewhere. Are you interested in promoting your work? If so, contact us at….

  5. says

    Actually, the situation faced by classical musicians is NOT identical to that faced by jazz musicians. While a jazz musician doesn’t have to audition with 200 others for 18th second violin in the Hoople Philharmonic, classical musicians rarely have to play “door gigs” in a saloon. Classical musicians are part of a system that has survived through widespread financial subsidy for generations. Jazz musicians (at least in the U.S.) rarely enjoy such a luxury. Now that the subsidies for classical music are breaking down, all we jazz musicians can say is: “Welcome to our world.”

    • says

      True, non-profit funding for classical music is suffering, but it but it seems to be doing a better job than the commercial approach is for jazz. Classical music has about the same amount of support it had in 1940 (less but not catastrophically.) On the other hand, consider the changes in jazz support since then. In 1940, jazz was still a massively successful, popular art form. Now it’s a rarified art form that has virtually no commercial basis at all.

      So the situation might be the reverse of what you say. If jazz is to survive it might need to embrace a non-profit funding system like classical music. Classical musicians could justifiably say to jazzers, welcome to our world.

  6. says

    I interviewed the talented UK tenorist, Simon Spillett for our website and asked him, “With a global recession going on, how, as the jazz world has never been known as a way to get rich, are you and other musicians you are acquainted with managing to survive in what is a difficult economic time for everyone?”

    Spillett’s reply “In jazz it’s always a struggle, but as I joke, now there’s a recession on, everyone else knows how we feel all the time! “